07/12/10 3:30 PM ET
National League fueled by ASG losing streak
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
That, in case you didn't already know, was the 1996 All-Star Game. And it's the last time the National League came out victorious.
It is with that in mind that the Senior Circuit heads into the 81st rendition of the Midsummer Classic with a rather large monkey on its back, one that comes in the form of a seven-game losing streak to the American League, which is actually 12 if you discount 2002's 7-7 tie at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
On Tuesday night, the NL will once again look to get back on the winning side. And though the All-Star Game is in many ways a celebratory event in itself, natural competitiveness will no doubt fuel a league that has been winless for 14 years.
"For sure, that means something," said Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who's making his third consecutive trip to the All-Star Game. "Everybody takes pride in going out there and competing and trying to win the game. I don't think the talent in the American League is that much better than it is in the National League, so hopefully this is the year. It's been a lot of years. Too many."
In recent years, though, the NL has come awfully close.
Despite losing 12 of the past 13 years -- and winning just three times since 1988 -- 11 of those All-Star Games have been decided by three runs or fewer, and the NL has lost by just one run each of the past four years.
It hasn't been for lack of effort.
"In the years I've been [to the All-Star Game], we've been trying hard," said Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who's starting for the NL for the third consecutive year. "Everybody knows the job is to win the game and not just to go to the All-Star Game. Whatever happens, happens. Somebody is going to win, somebody is going to lose. But we try hard every year."
Since the All-Star Game concept began in 1933, its history has been composed of streaks.
The AL won 12 of the first 16. Then the NL flat-out dominated for four decades, winning 33 of 42 All-Star Games from 1950-87. During that stretch, the NL went on an 11-game winning streak, from 1972-82, and came up victorious in 19 of 20 games from 1963-82.
But then the tables turned, as the AL went on a six-game winning streak, from 1988-93, and later took off on its current run, making the Senior Circuit feel more like the junior varsity.
"It's been a while," Nationals closer Matt Capps, a first-time All-Star, said.
History, however, has a tendency of balancing itself out. In the 80 All-Star Games since 1933 (two were played each year from 1959-62, and no game was held in '45), the NL has won 40, the AL has won 38 and the remaining two ended in ties.
In 2003, the Midsummer Classic morphed from an event merely designed to showcase the game's best players to a pivotal contest to decide home-field advantage in the World Series.
And that, more than the 14-year winless streak, is the No. 1 incentive for most of the NL All-Stars.
"It's a big deal because it's home-field advantage, plain and simple," said Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright.
"I think it's very important for us to win to have the home-field advantage," Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd added. "That's the bottom line."
But for first-time NL All-Stars -- such as Byrd -- there's also that soak-it-all-in aspect.
"I'm pretty sure whoever's been there for the first time is going to be just like I am -- they're going to be wanting to win, but at first it's going to be about looking around and seeing what's going on and seeing who's there and all that kind of stuff," Astros All-Star newbie Michael Bourn said. "I'm going to enjoy myself. I want to win the game, but this is my first one. I don't know what to expect, so we'll see what happens when I get there."
This year, a new wrinkle was added: The designated hitter will now be used at every All-Star Game, no matter the host ballpark.
The initial thought was that the AL would automatically be at an advantage, since its 14 teams are already equipped with an extra everyday player in the lineup. Since the beginning of Interleague Play, in 1997, the AL has a .576 winning percentage at home -- where it can use a DH -- including a .610 home winning percentage this year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But none of that matters now, not when we're one day away from the 2010 version of the All-Star Game from Angel Stadium in Anaheim, which will be broadcast nationally on FOX Sports, with pregame ceremonies beginning 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
All that matters now is the 68 players who will be taking part.
"If you play in the game, you want to try to win," said Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, who will serve as the NL's starting catcher for the second consecutive year. "I never look at a streak or anything, I just try and go out there and play to win the game."
Wondering how it all looks on paper? Well, the starting nine for the AL is batting a combined .318 and averaging 13.2 homers with 54.1 RBIs, while the NL's starting nine is batting .298 with 14 homers and 54.7 RBIs. On the mound, NL starter Ubaldo Jimenez is 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA, while AL starter David Price is 12-4 with a 2.42 ERA.
But this contest, of course, is decided on the field. Fourteen years ago the setting was the fake turf of the Phillies' Veterans Stadium. Now it's the Angels' natural-grass ballpark in Southern California.
The NL will hope for the same result.
"That's what you're going there for," Jimenez said. "It's not only to have a good time. Every single good player who goes wants a chance to win, especially since we haven't won one since 1996 or something like that. It'd be really nice to get the win."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Several MLB.com reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.